One Step at a Time

It was a very busy summer and just now have I had a chance to re-read my past post on my goals for this year. Luckily, I’ve been moving forward with most of these in the first few weeks of the year. Here are a few things that I’m working toward and items where I might need some help from the Ed Tech community will be highlighted in red. If you know someone who might be able to help me, please forward this along. Thanks!

Blogging for Grade 7/8 Math Problem Solving

Starting next week, I will be introducing my students to blogging. This will be our main environment for presenting solutions to a variety of open-ended problem solving tasks this year. I am hoping to encourage conversation about problem solving methods and strategies among my students. I will also encourage them to solve their problems using a wide variety of technologies – photos of hand-written solutions, thorough typed solutions and explanations, videos… whatever! I have chosen kidblog as the blogging platform for my class, although there are several great options out there.

We will spend the first few weeks solving problems, presenting thorough solutions and learning to comment on others’ solutions in appropriate ways. Once the boys have learned these skills, I hope to make some connections and have my students begin to read and comment on other blogs from around the world. Ideally, I would like to pair up with another teacher who is using blogging (or considering it) for a similar purpose in math. Our students could then comment on and receive comments from others around the world.

Preparing for 1-to-1

A year from now we will just be settling into a new educational model. All students at my school will have a device of their own. iPads from SK-2, a mix of iPads and laptops in grade 3, and laptops from grades 4-7. This is going to be quite the change for our teachers and students, but everyone around the school seems to be planning for it already – and everyone is excited. We did a lot of preparation for this last year and it is seeming to pay off as I regularly hear, “when they have laptops next year…” Now we need to put the nitty-gritty in place – storage, charging, transport. One item I would be interested in hearing about from those who have been through this process is screen monitoring software. Some teachers have requested a way to monitor what is on students’ screens at any particular time. My inclination is to tell them to get up and walk around. However, we have been asked to investigate our options. The way our network is configured limits some of our options and I would be curious to hear from those in schools where screen monitoring is available – do you use it? If so, when and how often? What is the main purpose? If you did not have that tool, what would you be unable to do? Thanks for any and all input.

Student Digital Portfolios

Last year with the launch of Google Apps at our school, I began to use Google Sites with my grade 6 & 7 students for developing personal portfolios. It was limited last year to mainly an art portfolio, but our art teacher was very enthusiastic and every student ended up with their year’s worth of work on their site with reflections and descriptions. For last year’s grade 6 students, we have just added their grade 7 page to their portfolios and it is so fulfilling to see these portfolios really begin to take shape over multiple years. There is more interest in it this year from other teachers who are also wanting the boys to use the portfolio for storing and reflecting on work or learning strategies. It’s exciting! We are very lucky to have the opportunity to present our work from last year at this year’s ECOO conference in Toronto. I am looking forward to sharing and learning from others who attend our session. Unfortunately, we’ve been scheduled to present during the last time slot on the last day. Please – stick it out if you’re going and come see some of our student sites!

Just with these few things, it’s shaping up to be a busy year… time to get back to work!


Reflections on #ISTE12 – Many things learned and a summer to sort through it all

I am on my way home, returning from my 3rd ISTE conference. As in the past, I was inspired by the speakers and attendees. Everyone you speak to at this conference has something valuable to share – and I tried to take it all in. This year, however, the conference has a different tone for me – instead of gathering tools and techniques, it was more about validating my own thinking about teaching and learning with technology (thank-you #ConnectedCA for changing my focus). Now it is time to put some of these thoughts into practice.

After having several hours to ponder this at a couple of different airports, I think I’ve come away with several key ideas for next year. I hope by documenting them here, I will hold myself accountable for at least trying a few of them. I am inspired now… but the summer can be long. Someone, please remind me to re-read this post in mid-August.

  • Global Communication. Although I’ve just ventured into the world of blogging, after attending the #ISTE12 session by @lparisi and @bcrosby, I am motivated to bring this tool into my classroom. I even bought the book! Since I only teach one class regularly, my grade 7 math students are in for a bit of a change. I hope to move a lot of our ongoing problem solving into a blogging format. I like to emphasize process and documentation of thought – and blogging is just perfect. As the year progresses, I hope to make contact with other grade 7/8 teachers who would be interested in having their students work in a similar format. Having students collaborate on the same problem, across the world is a very exciting idea for me – but is also a little scary. If anyone is interested in trying this with me, please let me know.
  • Share more. After attending this conference with teachers that span from grades 1 to 12 at our school, I have realized that I don’t share enough beyond my own middle division. For example, teachers in the primary and senior schools didn’t know our middle students had online portfolios, they didn’t know I had posted screencast tutorials for students (that faculty could probably use too) & I didn’t know what the grade 1s were capable of doing with passionate @learning_teach at the helm (please follow her – she’s new on twitter). After just a few discussions with her, she has now planned and designed online portfolio templates for her students and has begun her own blog and website. Having the time to sit down and share ideas this week was truly inspirational. I need to do this more often within my middle division, across divisions and departments from K-12, and outside of my school with this blog and twitter. How to find the time? That’s September’s challenge.
  • Step out of my comfort zone. I have been teaching grade 7 math for 10 years now and although things have changed along the way, I need to mix it up again. It’s easy to fall back on the same old lesson plans – but that’s not what is best for the students. Flipping the occasional lesson, changing assessment strategies, pushing the boundaries… it’s time. After the #ConnectedCA conference in May, I did do this at the end of the school year by putting together a QR code scavenger hunt for the students to review for their final exam. At our school, cell phones must still remain in lockers. So, I put together the entire hunt, posted the QR codes around the school and then … uh oh… told the students to bring their devices to class. I had a bunch of iPads on hand for those who didn’t have a smart phone or iPad of their own. Just before class, I sent an email to the teachers at school indicating that students would be wandering the halls with their devices to find and solve math problems. I figured it was better to ask forgiveness than to ask permission. It was a great success. Students were splayed out in the middle of hallways around the school solving math problems – using their devices to not only provide them with a new problem, but to help them solve it by referring to past lessons online or simply use the calculator. I need to remember this when I get into a rut next year. It’s time to mix it up – regularly!

There are more things floating around in my head about next year, but my flight is about to board… and I can leave that for another blog post once I sort through my notes and ideas.

Any feedback and suggestions are always welcome. This blog is all about global communication and sharing more – now is when I get started on next year’s goals.

What is this all about?

I guess this is what I’m trying to figure out. After attending the #ConnectEdCA conference at the Calgary Science School last week, I’m still trying to process everything. I was exposed to very different (and much better) modes of teaching and learning which aren’t entirely possible in the current structure at my school. I now need to figure out how to move to a more inquiry-based structure within my own math class and how to encourage and help others see the benefits in such an approach in my role as ICT coordinator. Given our school year is over in terms of teaching new concepts, I hope I can maintain my enthusiasm and focus over the summer months!

I truly was inspired at #ConnectEdCA. I was able to meet educational leaders from across our great country. As an ICT teacher and coordinator for the middle division at my school where all students have a full schedule of subject-specific classes, my focus heading to Calgary was to come away with new and innovative ideas for integrating technology into traditional subject-based classrooms. I came away with much bigger and more important ideas about teaching and learning; my focus on technology really took a back seat.

Although there were many inspirational moments, I was most moved to action by two in particular:

  • @deirdrebailey and @amydawnpark’s 30 day challenge. I like the idea of making specific and manageable choices to improve my practice. Trying something out for 30 days is possible. It’s a short period of time and if something is working – carry on. If something isn’t working – 30 days isn’t a huge investment and I will have learned something in the process. I now need to make some 30-day goals now that I can start in September – that can be my next blog post!
  • @wrightsroom. An inspirational speaker and teacher who took it upon herself to up-end her own classroom and teaching style. A huge risk with big pay-offs, but not without stumbling blocks. Thank-you so much for sharing your experiences at #ConnectEdCA. I hope to make it all the way through her blog this summer.

I have already taken a few risks and made a few changes… but I hope there are a lot more to come – as long as I can find the time and energy. It’s so easy to fall back into the same old practices.

  • I have actually begun to tweet. I had an account, and was following a few people from the US that I had seen at ISTE conferences in the past… but now I see the real purpose in tweeting and following. The connections I made at #ConnectEdCA will be invaluable. I am truly feeling more Connected with other educators of like mind.
  • Yesterday, I had my Grade 7 math class complete a QR code scavenger hunt where students were permitted to bring their devices to class (OH NO!) It worked beautifully and the students were found around the school, phones/iPods/iPads in hand… doing math problems to review for their final exam. I was contemplating this task, but once I attended the #ConnectEdCA gathering, I was pushed to actually try it. I thought I would ask for forgiveness rather than permission with this one – but it wasn’t necessary.
  • I have already emailed my administration and various department heads with ideas for teacher PD and authentic student tasks to consider for next year. I will be following up in September. Trying to kick-start greater collaboration and sharing.

So… once I decided to start a blog (who knows how long this will last… but I am going to try). I had to come up with some sort of theme or structure – starting with a name! I thought about what makes me different – what am I hoping to learn – what would my classroom look like in the ideal environment – how do I recognize excellence in my students… yes… that’s it. I want to use this blog to recognize what I see as important to teaching, learning and integrating technology to help teachers and students go above and beyond their expectations.

ImageIn my math classroom, I begin each year telling my students about my penguin collection. I began collecting penguins in Grade 2 when I completed my first-ever research assignment. In fact… I still have that research somewhere! Years ago, I found sheets of tiny penguin stickers – and they come out only when appropriate. Students earn a penguin sticker by demonstrating valuable learning; a new way of approaching a problem, a new study technique that worked, asking for extra help without being prompted by me … It’s hard to specifically say what a student has to do to earn a penguin sticker, but I know when I see it. And when they get something back with that little tiny penguin on it – there is a celebration. It is my way of communicating to them that I am very proud of what they have done. I never announce when someone has earned the penguin, but it’s often obvious by their reaction.

I think this is how I hope to use this blog. To celebrate new learning, taking risks and sharing my attempts at improving my own teaching and learning with a focus on technology.

We’ll see.